Congress has set goals to help woman-owned small businesses (WOSBs) gain their share of the federal contracting market.
However, without a specific set-aside contract program for WOSBs, such as those in place for small disadvantaged businesses (e.g., the 8(a) program), service-disabled veterans and historically underutilized business zones (HUBZone), WOSBs only received 4% of the $400+ billion contracts awarded annually well shy of the 5% statutory goal.
In an effort to address this shortfall and create a more level contracting playing field for women-owned small businesses, in late 2010 the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) announced the final rule that would implement the WOSB program. Formally known as the Woman-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program, the goals of the program were outlined by SBA Administrator, Karen Mills, in the agency’s press release:
“Women-owned businesses are one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy…That’s why providing them with all the tools necessary to compete for and win federal contracts is so important. Federal contracts can provide women-owned small businesses with the oxygen they need to take their business to the next level.”
While the WOSB Program was formally launched by the SBA in February 2011, it wasn’t until April 2011 that the federal procurement officials were able to set-aside contracts under the program.
So what is the WOSB Program and how can you take advantage of it? Here’s what you need to know and the steps you need to take to get your business certified to participate!
What is the WOSB Program?
The WOSB Program is a win-win for WOSBs and EDWOSBs (Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Businesses) and the federal government. WOSBs now have an opportunity to compete for and win contracts specifically set aside for WOSBs.
There are over 300 industries (PDF) (in the contracting world these are known as NAICS codes) where WOSBs and EDWOSBs have been deemed “underrepresented” or “substantially underrepresented”. Contracting officers can do a WOSB or EDWOSB set-aside contracts in these industries if:
- There is reasonable expectation that two or more WOSBs/EDWOSBs will submit offers.
- The anticipated award price of the contract does not exceed $6.5 million in the case of manufacturing contracts and $4 million in the case of all other contracts.
- In the estimation of the contracting officer, the contract can be awarded at a fair and reasonable price.
Interested bidders can look on the Federal Business Opportunities web site to find federal government solicitations that may be set aside for WOSB or EDWOSBs
Are you Eligible for WOSB/EDWOSB Set-Asides?
To help determine your eligibility for the WOSB program you’ll need to be ask yourself a few eligibility questions:
- Are you a small business as defined by SBA standards for your industry? – Read “Am I a small business concern?” from the SBA to determine if you are. If you are not eligible you can still consider teaming with a small business prime contractor who is.
- Are you a woman-owned small business (WOSB)? – Your business must beat least 51% directly or unconditionally owned by one or more women. In addition, the management and daily business operations must be controlled by one or more women who are U.S. citizens.
- Does your business function within one of the over 300 industries (known as NAICS codes) for the WOSB program?
- Are you an economically disadvantaged woman-owned small business (EDWOSB)? You don’t have to be to qualify for the WOSB program, although you do for the EDWOSB portion. Here are the requirements:
Be a WOSB that is at least 51% owned by one or more women who are “economically disadvantaged”. A woman is presumed economically disadvantaged if she:
- Has a personal net worth of less than $750,000 (please note items that may be excluded)
- Average annual income of less than $350,000 for the three years (please note items that may be excluded)
- Value of total assets is less than $6 million (please note items that may be excluded)
How to Get Certified for the WOSB Program
If you meet the eligibility requirements above, you’ll then need to either self-certify or obtain third party certification (read more about the certification process here).
To ensure you can compete for these WOSB set-aside contracts as soon as possible, take the time to review all the program requirements on the SBA website and ensure your required documents are uploaded to the WOSB Program Repository. WOSBs also will need to update their status in the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) and the Online Representation and Certification Application (ORCA) to indicate to contracting officers that they are eligible to participate.
Training and Education on the WOSB Program
The SBA is engaging in a number of training and outreach activities to help small business owners understand the program – contact your local SBA Office for more information. The agency has also put together this easy-to-read handbook (PDF) for small businesses interested in learning about the WOSB Program, including eligibility requirements, federal contracting opportunities, and how the program works in general.
If you are new to the government contracting market or have questions about the process, take a look at these guides and resources on the SBA website:
- Government Contracting Guide – Includes information on getting started, what is needed to work with the government, and how to identify, create and pursue potential business opportunities.
- Online Training Courses – These free self-paced courses are designed to help small businesses learn more about the federal contracting market.
- Local SBA Offices – Talk to a liaison at your local office about the federal contracting process.
- SBA Community – Government Contracting Discussion Board – Got questions about contracting? Post them here or scroll through existing threads for answers.